What does Akşener’s party carry for Turkey?
After months of preparation, Meral Akşener announced on October 25 the founding of her expected party. The party founders chose “Turkey will be fine” to be the party’s slogan, but the party’s name (İYİLİK PARTİ) is still looking for an agreed translation between “Good Party” or “Party of the Good”, or others, because of its symbolic name (İYİ, which translates as ‘Good’). However, the new party is arousing a lot of controversy in Turkey due to the names of its founders and their backgrounds.
The founding chairperson of the party, Miral Akşener, a veteran politician born in 1956, began her political career in the 1990s with the Right Path Party (DYP). She was the first woman in Turkish history and the only woman to serve as interior minister in the coalition government between the Welfare Party of Necmettin Erbakan and the Right Path Party led by Tansu Çiller.
Akşener succeeded in accessing the parliament in the elections of 1995 and 1999 for the Right Path Party (from which she resigned in 2001), and in the 2007, 2011 and June 2015 elections for the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). She was the Deputy Speaker of Turkey’s Grand National Assembly (parliament) in two legislative sessions, but her party did not nominate her for the re-election in November 2015 due to internal controversy.
This state of controversy prompted a number of party leaders and cadres to rebel against its chairman Devlet Bahçeli. They called for an extraordinary conference in which Akşener announced that she would run for chairman. However, many developments, especially the failed coup attempt in 2016, pushed things in the other direction within the party, ending with the dismissal of a number of leaders from the party, including Akşener, which led them to establish this new party. There is an unknown station in Akşener’s political life, i.e. that in 2001 she resigned from the Right Path Party (DYP) to join the “reformist” group led by Erdogan that had left the Virtue Party to establish the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), but that lasted only a few weeks before leaving them to join the MHP.
The 200 founding members of Akşener’s party are mostly members of the center-right, nationalists and conservatives, including current members of parliament (MPs), and former MPs and ministers, about a quarter of whom are women.
The eight lines that surround the sun in the party’s logo refer to its eight principles: hope, determination, justice, future, science, wealth, courage and civilization. In its basic system, the party has its main objectives of separating the authorities, justice, equity in distribution of wealth, empowerment of youth, reduction of unemployment rates and economic and other goals related to Turkey’s international status. The most important of these principles is the determination to draft a new constitution for the country, and take the country back to the parliamentary system.
Given these backgrounds, many observers see that the new party will not be just a number raising the total of Turkish parties close to 100, but it represents a new project in Turkey which can play a role in Turkish political life. It may be useful to note that the group of founders includes four MPs who resigned from the MHP, and one MP that had resigned from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). Thus, it is a party that is present to some degree in the current political life.
These and other signals are in favor of the message that the party wishes to convey to the Turkish electorate, i.e. that it represents Turkey’s various spectrums, not only the nationalists, who currently represent the backbone of the party. This was evident in Akşener’s speech in which she paid tribute to the souls of politicians and leaders from various political and intellectual currents, most notably Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Alp-Arslan Turkish, Adnan Menderes, Turgut Ozal and Necmettin Erbakan.
The impact of the new party can be assessed at two levels:
a) The level of the Nationalist Movement Party which they split from.
b) The level of Turkey, and the new party’s likely competition with the AK Party.
Akşener appeared to be interested in showing the “nationalist” or the “national” character of her party through slogans, symbols and some of the founders’ names, although she did not present it as a “nationalist” party. In fact, the party has a good chance – albeit difficult to predict – in its competition with the Nationalist Movement Party, especially due to the facts that:
– It came following internal debate and conflict over the last two years,
– After the emergence of anti-Bahçeli (MHP chairman) voices within the party,
– After a large number of the MHP party members voted against the decision of its chairman during the latest referendum,
– And perhaps, Bahçeli’s old age is one of the main factors that Akşener and her comrades are betting on.
However, the party’s most important bet is to present itself as an alternative to the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in Turkey’s leadership. This was evident in many of the details in which the new party tried to imitate the AK Party, including its (unideological) name, its slogan that contained the sun (compared with the AK Party’s lamp), representation of various currents, and most importantly the fact that it presented itself as a “solution” to Turkey’s problems and the “governance failure”, similarly to what the AK Party did at its foundation. It seems that the new party is betting on winning the spectrum that did not support the constitutional amendment within the AK Party framework, the independent voters and those who are angry with their parties.
However, there are many differences that cannot be overlooked between the time of the AK Party founding and today. The AK Party came after the 1997 coup against the government of Erbakan, the subsequent coalition governments that failed and collapsed, a political stalemate; and economic crises, including borrowing from the International Monetary Fund, which led the Turkish citizen to abandon all hope in the political parties existing at the time and seek alternatives which were provided by Erdogan and his colleagues. However today, with all the internal problems and foreign policy crises, the scene is altogether different. There is a ruling party with continuous achievements in government and a president/leader elected by more than 50% of the Turkish people. Also, there is no complete blockage in political life or a suffocating economic crisis.
Moreover, the identity of the new party and the names of its founders makes it difficult to attract an important percentage of the Republican electorate, and it seems almost impossible to obtain the votes of the Kurds in the light of the party’s national background. However, the target bloc remains the supporters of both the National Movement Party (MHP), and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), as well as some right-wing parties. Given the situation in Turkey, it is very difficult for the new party to pose a real threat to the AK Party according to the current situation, especially that suspicions were raised about the relationship between the party and Akşener, herself, with Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization (FETO).
But, in conclusion, it is important to point out that Akşener as a lady, her background and her program may represent a project that could persuade some quarters – especially foreign ones – to support her party. Also, there are two full years ahead of the coming simultaneous parliamentary and presidential elections. Therefore, the developments, events, and “surprises” that may occur during this period will determine to a great extent the tendency of the Turkish electorate and the chances of the new party, especially the AK Party cadres’ and the Turkish street’s assessment of the wide-range process of change and renovation, currently led by Erdogan in all levels of the ruling party, which seems to be so far an incomplete adventure, whose results have not appeared yet.